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injurious, seeding, as would furnish an annual and ample supply for the largest city. Though agriculture has of late been attended to, still he would be one of the greatest benefactors to his countrymen in general, who would convince them that the richest mine of national wealth lies within six inches of the surface, and who would teach them the most advantageous method of working it.
“On the whole, we will pronounce that the inquirers into natural knowledge will find Mr. White to be no unequal successor of Ray and Derham; and that the History of the Priory is a curious tract of local antiquity. We should not hesitate to speak so favourably of this work even though it had much less rural anecdote and literary allusion to recommend it.”
Having given this short account of a part of Gilbert White's family, we will proceed to an account of the Naturalist himself,
He received his education at Basingstoke, under the Rev. Thomas Warton, vicar of that town, and the father of those two distinguished literary characters, Dr. Joseph Warton, Master of Winchester School, and Mr. Thomas Warton, Professor of Poetry at Oxford. He was admitted at Oriel College in December, 1739, and took his degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1743. In March, 1744, he was elected Fellow of his College. He became Master of Arts in October, 1746, and served the office of Proctor, which he did to the great surprise of his family, as they thought it would not suit his habits; but he is said to have performed his duties ably. It is probable, however, that he was more observant of the swallows in the Christchurch meadows, than of the under-graduates in High-street. He had frequent opportunities of accepting College livings, but his fondness for his native village—his love of the country and its pursuits, and especially that of Natural History-made him decline all
preferment. There can be no doubt that the “shades of old Selborne, so lovely and sweet,” were peculiarly well adapted for the observations of a lover of nature; and here Mr. White passed his days either in correspondence with, or in the society of, amiable friends, and closed them in the 73rd year of his age, on the 26th of June, 1793.
Mr. White in his earlier days was much attached to Miss Mulso (afterwards Mrs. Chapone), whose brother was his most intimate friend, and between them a most interesting and amusing series of letters took place. These letters would have been well worth publishing, and it was intended that this should be done; but when Mr. Mulso's son was applied to for Mr. White's correspondence, the mortifying answer was returned that they had all been destroyed. Mr. Mulso's letters, we understand, are still remaining.
It should be mentioned, on the authority of one of his nephews, and it may well be imagined, that Gilbert White's habits were very temperate, and his temper cheerful and social. He was often surrounded by his nephews and nieces, and visited by the respectable gentry of his neighbourhood. His pleasing manners were duly appreciated by them all. As long as his health allowed him, he always attended the annual election of Fellows at Oriel College, where the gentlemen commoners were allowed the use of the common-room after dinner. This liberty they seldom availed themselves of, except on the occasion of Mr. White's visits; for such was his happy, and, indeed, inimitable manner of relating an anecdote and telling a story, that the room was always filled when he was there. Not very long after the publication of his “Selborne,” Dr. Scrope Beardmore, the then Warden of Merton College, made the following striking observation to a nephew of Mr. White's, from whom the Editor received the anecdote, and which has proved singularly prophetic:
“ Your uncle," the Warden said, “ has sent into the world a publication with nothing to call attention to it but an advertisement or two in the newspapers ;
but depend upon it the time will come when very few who buy books will be without it."
It was to Miss Mulso that Mr. White addressed the following suppositious letter from Timothy, his old tortoise, which may amuse some of his admirers :
MOST RESPECTED LADY, Your letter gave me great satisfaction, being the first that I was ever honoured with. It is my wish to answer you in your own way; but I could never make a verse in my life, so you must be content with plain prose.
Having seen but little of this great world, conversed but little, read less, I feel myself much at a loss how to entertain so intelligent a correspondent. Unless you will let me write about myself, my answer will be very short. Know, then, that I am an American, and was born in the year 1734, in the province of Virginia, in the midst of a savannah that lay between a large tobacco plantation and a creek of the sea. Here I spent my youthful days among my relations, with much satisfaction, and saw around me many venerable kinsmen, who attained to great ages without any interruption from distempers. Longevity is so general among our species, that a funeral is quite a rare occur
I can just remember the death of my great great grandfather, who departed this life in the 160th year of his age. Happy should I have been in the enjoyment of my native climate, and the society of my friends, had not a sea-boy, who was wandering about to see what he could pick up, surprised me as I was sunning myself under a bank, and whipping me into his wallet, carried me aboard his ship. The circumstances of our voyage were not worthy of recital. I only remember the rippling of the water against the sides of the vessel as we sailed along, was a very lulling and composing sound, which served to sooth my slumbers as I lay in the hold. We had a short
voynge, and came to anchor on the coast of England, in the harbour of Chichester. In that city my kidnapper sold me for half-a-crown to a country gentleman, who came up to attend an election. I was immediately packed in a basket, and carried, slung by the servant's side, to their place of abode. As we rode very hard for forty miles, and as I had never been on horseback before, I found myself somewhat giddy with my airy jaunt.
My purchaser, who was a good-humoured man, after showing me to some of his neighbours, and giving me the name of Timothy, took little further notice of me, so I fell under the care of his lady, a benevolent woman, whose humane attention extended to the neanest of her retainers. With this gentlewoman I remained almost forty years, living in a little walled-in court, in the front of her house, and enjoying much quiet, and as much satisfaction as I could expect without society, which I often languished after. At last the good old lady died, at a very advanced
age, such as even a tortoise would call a great age, and I then became the property of her nephew.
This man, my present master, dug me out of my winter retreat, and packing me in a deal box, jumbled me eighty miles to my present abode. I was sorely shaken by this expedition, which was the worst journey I ever experienced. In my present situation I enjoy many advantages, such as the range of an extensive garden, affording a variety of sun and shade, and abounding in lettuces, poppies, kidney-beans, and many other salubrious and delectable herbs and plants, and especially with a good choice of delicate gooseberries ! But still at times I miss my good old mistress, whose grave and regular deportment suited best with my disposition ; for you must know that my present master is what men call a naturalist, and much visited by people of that turn, who often put him on whimsical experiments, such as feeling my pulse, putting me into a tub of water to try if I can swim, &c.; and twice a year I am carried to the grocer's to be weighed, that it may be seen how much I am wasted during the months of my abstinence, and how much I gain by feeding during the summer. Upon these occasions, I am placed on my back in the scale, where I sprawl about, to the great diversion of the shopkeeper's children. These matters displease me ; but there is another that hurts my pride, -I mean the contempt shown for my understanding, which these “lords of the creation ” are very apt to discover, thinking that nobody knows anything but themselves. I heard my master say that he expected I should some day tumble down the ba-ha; whereas I would have him to know that I can discover a precipice from the plain ground as well as himself. Sometimes my master repeats with much seeming triumph the following lines, which occasion a loud laugh:
“Timotheus, placed on high
For my part, I see no wit in the application, nor know whence the verses are quoted ; perhaps from some prophet of his own, who if he penned them for the sake of ridiculing tortoises, bestowed his pains, I think, to poor purposes. These are some of my grievances ; but they sit very light on me, in comparison of what remains behind.
Know then, tender-hearted lady, that my great misfortune, and what I have never divulged to any one before, is the want of society with my own kind. This reflection is always uppermost in my mind, but comes upon me with irresistible force every spring. It was in the month of May last that I resolved to elope from my place of confinement; for my fancy had represented to me that probably many agreeable tortoises, of both sexes, might inhabit the heights of Baker's Hill, or the extensive plains of the neighbouring meadow, both of which I could discern from the terrace. One sunny morning I watched my opportunity, found the wicket open, eluded the vigilance of the gardener, and escaped into the sainfoin, which begun to be in bloom, and thence into the beans. I was missing eight days, wandering in this wilderness of sweets, and exploring the meadow at times. But my pains were all to no purpose ; I could find no society such as I sought for. I began to grow hungry, and to wish myself at home. I therefore came forth in sight, and surrendered myself up to Thomas, who had been inconsolable in my absence.